Written by Alison Elliott
March 3, 2022
On Tuesday, January 25th, the Cahdco team had the privilege of being joined by Kaite Bukholder Harris, the Executive Director for the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa, for an informative presentation surrounding the state of homelessness in Ottawa and how we can end it. Our team benefited greatly from hearing about how to strategically overcome chronic homelessness in Ottawa, and the crucial research/work that the Alliance is doing to mandate change.
With the Alliance’s campaign “Starts with Home” launching a couple of weeks ago (more information at the end of this blog), we found now to be the perfect opportunity to spread word about the Alliance and share the information presented to us to our readers.
Homelessness, as we know it, is an issue that emerged in tandem with the end of the Second World War, when the emphasis on single-family residences increased, mortgages were created, and communities became more isolated. It was only exacerbated in the 90’s when the federal government cut funding for affordable housing. Currently, the demographic of people experiencing homelessness is vast, including women, children, families, and a proportionally large number of Inuit, Metis, and First Nations people. There are a scarce number of cities/townships in Canada that are operating at a “functional zero” level of homelessness, those being Medicine Hat and Waterloo Region (for chronic family homelessness).
During the presentation, Kaite identified three main causes of homelessness, those being; structural factors, systems failures, and personal/relational circumstances. As many of our readers understand, homelessness is not a choice and can be related to many issues, such as inflation and under compensation, domestic violence, job loss, eviction, and etcetera. In the next section, we will delve into system failures in more depth when discussing the systemic causes and risks of homelessness.
In Canada, many of our governmental responses are built on crisis. Take the Rapid-Housing Initiative as an example, which was not expressly created due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rather the dire need for affordable housing in Canada that was exacerbated because of it. This has resulted in a plethora of “Band-Aid” systems that have created a complicated maze of services (including community kitchens, shelters, case managers, etc) that individual’s experiencing homelessness must navigate by themselves. This type of short-term thinking blames the individual for their experience, and only makes it more difficult to overcome their current situation.
There are also major gaps in the care of vulnerable people in this nation. Kaite noted the untimely discharge of youth on their 18th birthdays from group homes, often with no place to go afterwards. For those facing eviction due to rental arrears, it can be difficult to reach someone able to approve repayment of rent arrears to prevent an eviction through 311- the emergency number for the City of Ottawa that is often used to help people in need of emergency shelters.
Lastly, housing loss is very expensive, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not a new learning for most in the affordable housing sector and is a main driver in creating supportive housing. Kaite explained that the cost of operating a shelter bed on a monthly basis is near $2,000, as opposed to a social housing unit, which is around $200. Not to mention poor living conditions in shelters and scarcity of shelter beds, giving many no options for emergency housing.
As explained by Kaite, a systems planning approach is one that analyzes, plans and designs an integrated system with defined services that, consequentially, works towards a common end. The process must be data-driven, use system coordination, and focus on prevention of homelessness first. To better explain its application in our context, we will look at each factor below.
Currently, there are some prominent gaps in data-gathering. The most common data-collection system on homelessness in Canada is point-in-time data, which is volunteer driven, eye-witness based counts of people experiencing homelessness on any given night. As one might assume, most data regarding people experiencing homelessness comes from shelters, which is not all-encompassing.
Ottawa needs an integrated governance structure with written policies and protocols that have common information across the board. A coordinated governance structure is something that the case-study cities, mentioned previously (Waterloo and Medicine Hat), needed to reach functional-zero and this is something that Ottawa could do quickly, with our strong and functional governing bodies.
There need to be systems in place that prevent homelessness immediately when someone is displaced (for example, that 18-year-old being discharged on their birthday). It is not out of reach to have people be connected to supports and services within 1-10 days of being in a position to enter homelessness.
If Ottawa were to follow Medicine Hat or Waterloo Region and assert, even a small amount, of system disruption, we could make a tremendous stride toward, and even achieve, functional zero homelessness.
As everyone on the Cahdco team can agree, Kaite has instilled much hope in all of us, with her structured, tested and realistic model of ending homelessness in Ottawa. On February 16th, the Starts with Home campaign was launched. It offers a 6-point action plan that addresses measurable solutions in both the public and private sector to end homelessness. The campaign is easy to follow, and presents a replicable script for individuals, groups, and organizations to bring to city council.
We once again are grateful to Kaite and the team at the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa for giving us the opportunity to broaden our understanding of homelessness and informing us about this mission-critical campaign.
March 3, 2022